Mark Thane, superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools, was honored Friday by friends and colleagues for being named regional superintendent of the year by the Western Montana Association of School Superintendents.
Thane, who is in his third year as superintendent, was selected as the winner by his peers. The award recognizes “outstanding leadership of superintendents who have succeeded in providing exceptional learning opportunities for students.”
About two dozen people gathered to celebrate Thane’s achievement, including Missoula Mayor John Engen, and other western Montana superintendents.
“I think overall, what is great about Mark as a superintendent is that he has just about done every job in the district leading up to being superintendent,” said Pat McHugh, MCPS executive director of business and operations. “It’s rare to have a meeting or conversation with him where he doesn't know from some level of personal experience exactly what you're talking about.”
Thane has worked in the district in many different capacities over 35 years, starting as a teacher and working his way up to principal, executive regional director, executive director of human resources and labor relations, and then superintendent.
Melanie Charlson, president of Missoula Education Association, said she’s worked with Thane since 1994 when he was principal of the school where she taught.
“Mark has just always been a man of integrity and a man of loyalty, and a leader who truly leads from his heart,” Charlson said. “I think in this capacity, he has created an era of communication, openness and trust. We were in a situation where that's I think what was needed, and he's brought back that sense of trust to the leadership in Missoula county schools.”
Thane’s superintendent award makes him one of nine regional winners in Montana. At an October conference, the statewide winner will be chosen from among those nine, and that person will be recognized at another event in Los Angeles.
Thane said it’s nice to be acknowledged, but didn’t want to hog the spotlight. He said all the western Montana superintendents are “remarkable” and deserving of recognition. The accomplishments of Missoula schools are owed to the staff and the community at large, he added.
“As long as we stay focused on what's in the best interest of the kids, I think we’ll continue to do good work,” he said. “It’s nice to be acknowledged, but its a shared award.”
As superintendent, Thane said his focus is on students’ development, not just academically, but emotionally and socially as well.
“I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to that, but we’ve found that we’re in a position now where we have to explicitly teach pro-social behaviors and help develop social and emotional skills, and to support students so that they can avail themselves of the academic opportunities that are here,” Thane said. “And that’s really a shift, I think, from when many of us began our careers in education.”
As staff are increasingly called upon to help students overcome personal challenges in order to succeed academically, Missoula has benefited from the talent and resources available thanks to the University of Montana, Thane said.
“Our community shouldn't take that for granted,” Thane said. “It’s a luxury that many communities don't have.”